Archive of ‘Motherhood’ category

Sweet Tea and Jesus

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Sweet tea

I have been quiet here. I continue to write elsewhere like I breathe. The fire of suffering the past months has been wild. Just when I think it might be under control there is a flick of a cigarette. The wind blows the sparks over my dry bones, and once again I am choking in the smoke of loss. Deep pain, my own and that of those I love, fans the flames. My pride keeps me from putting my whole heart here. I fear if you truly saw my charred fleshy wounds you would want to turn away. I’m finaly beginning the hard work of sifting through ashes. I’ve been through too many fires to doubt there is beauty here somewhere. I’ll find it. I will. Until then my God and my friends sit in my lament and let me cry.

I am continually amazed at the reflections of my life through blogging. The following post is from a year ago to the day, August 10th, 2014.

Today was the last Saturday of our summer. From the second I woke up I held on to moments like golden strands of fine thread needing to be tied off carefully so the tapestry won’t unravel. I am not sure if I ever fully believed God might give me a day like this . . . or a week . . . or a month . . . or three months, but I fought like He might, and He did.

I have been in recovery. I am a person who lost part of my brain and my soul. I have been relearning the simple things in life most people take for granted. I am in many ways like a child. If you spend time with me I will probably exclaim out loud about a hundred things you think are ordinary. I may have seen them or heard them, smelled them, tasted them or felt them before, but it has been years since anything did not pass through the brutal filter of chronic pain.

Dan and my girls are getting to know me again.

Delaney told me today I was funny. She only ever saw this mom in old home movies. I was the crazy one drinking a bloody mary for breakfast while dancing around the living room doing Elaine Benes impressions and belly laughing. I still believed life was good. She will tell me “Thank you” in an “I can’t believe you were able to do this for me way” for normal mom stuff like making her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It takes me off guard until I remember she has been making her own lunch and Danica’s lunch for too long. She turned around from the yard and said to me tonight, “I’m so proud of you mom. You’ve been through so much and still you provide.” I asked her, “What do I provide?” Her answer, “Kindness and love.” A tear falls, and I think . . . maybe she is going to be okay after all. Maybe I haven’t hurt her too much. Maybe she sees the big picture at almost twelve years old. Only the gift of the summer we’ve had could give this kind of clarity.

I see flashes of pure joy on my husband’s face when his old Monki shows up. I’ll do something simple for him like a wife might do for her husband. Maybe it’s just asking him if he needs a drink or a bowl of cereal, but I know symbolically it takes the tiniest bit of the incredible load he has carried for so long off him. It starts to tip the balance back to give and take instead of him always giving and me always taking,

For Danica it is different because our relationship was built on pain, mine or hers, and she doesn’t remember me any other way. She is thrilled to have a mommy planning playdates or going shopping with her, but she is not tenuous like Dan and Laney are. For Danica the fact her mom is out of bed is just her life today, not something she’s terrified we might lose. Still, her bedtime prayers have changed. Every night for as long as I can remember she would end with her little plea to a big God, “Please make mommy better.” I would cringe wondering how messed up a child’s faith could get if the answer never came. Slowly this summer she has moved on to pray about other things and for other people, letting me slip off the list. I love knowing her tender heart is getting a break from worrying about her mama.

During my plasmapheresis and IVIG treatments I made a list of things I really wanted to do this summer if I was well. Some of them were simple like taking the girls putt putting yesterday. Others were bigger like attending an outdoor concert, a major league baseball game and a trip to the beach, all activities that brought me true enjoyment before I became so ill. We never got to the bigger things because of money, but in some ways I think it was for the best because we learned how to live and love in this sacred space of home and everyday life again.

I also set out to lose steroid weight and become thinner over these summer months. This hasn’t happened, because I’m hungry for the first time in years, and I want to eat. I’ve realized the part of my brain that forgot how to enjoy anything is loving food again and drink and the community it invites too. I’m letting myself remember these right now. I’m showing myself grace. This body has been through hell. It’s okay to look in the mirror and respect the wonder of flesh and blood surviving all I have no matter what the scale says.

This evening our family was hanging out on our deck. We had just finished my “famous” corn dip. The sun was setting behind the trees. Over the Rhine was crooning “Favorite Time of Night” from our playlist. The girls and Twixie were playing badminton and soccer. I got that thick feeling in my throat as the cicadas sang. I felt my anxiety about all we are facing financially begin to sprout in my mind and try to rob me of the perfect night. I felt my fear about the evil in the world and the sadness for the suffering and brokenhearted. Why are we allowed to be here like this when so much of humanity is wailing tonight? Why does my heart ache over my own medical debt when people are starving and dying? How do I balance the goodness of God with all these things?

I have always been too serious. Life has always been a struggle between the highs and lows. I feel everything too deeply. I think about you and you and you, and I pray for you too. I wonder how you are today. I’ll write you a note to let you know. I’ll buy you a gift when I see something that makes me think of you even when I can’t afford it. If I just met you I want to cut through anything casual and hear your story. I want to know what you read and the music you listen to. I want to know what makes you laugh and what makes you cry. I know for sure God is real, and I’ll give the reason for the Hope in me. I know for sure life is hard and love is real, and we have to keep believing no matter what. All this is exhausting. Most don’t have the stomach for it and need to numb themselves or dumb it down as a coping mechanism. I get this. I do. I’ve tried to change. I’ve tried to medicate away the very thing I am learning is most likely a gift not a curse.

In this age of trying to capture our feeling in a facebook post or a tweet, I try to imagine telling some kind of narrative in just a few words. It’s not natural for me. Most of the time I just can’t do it, and I run to write for real in places no one reads. Instagram is a little easier. After all a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Sometimes I run to grab my camera and capture the way the light is falling or the girls are playing. I’m grasping to simplify what has always been so complicated for as long as I can remember. I don’t often succeed. On the rare occasion it happens it is usually just a few words strung together, hanging out there like a mantra for my soul. My OCD brain holds onto them, and I chant in my head like a child rocking to sooth away the day and finally sleep.

Today it came in a pillow that showed up in the mail.

SWEET TEA AND JESUS.

This I know.

I feel my symptoms returning slowly. I have quietly let the people who need to know begin to monitor how far we let this go before I get help again. I’m terrified, because I was released from a kind of prison, and I need to be free like this no matter what. No matter what the cost. No matter what the toll is on the people around me. No matter how many more scars. I can’t go back where I was. I knew another round might be needed. I remember asking, “How long will this last?” The answer was, “We don’t know. Maybe three months, maybe six . . .” I scribbled this in my little notebook I kept in the hospital those worst twelve days.

SWEET TEA AND JESUS. SWEET TEA AND JESUS. SWEET TEA AND JESUS.

This I know.

. . . It’s Sunday morning now. No church for us. Dan and the girls have taken a month off, and I am not sure when I can go back. I’m not sure why, but it has been good. We slept in until almost nine. All of us. We had coffee and breakfast and played Scrabble. I am so tired from my twitching body and racing mind. Symptoms. Our family will work on thank yous today. Gratitude for a family who gave us Christmas in July. It was amazing. Gratitude for a used laptop that showed up on our back deck when mine died. Someone who knows my world is still small and the keyboard and screen are the place I sort things out and reach out and am touched by you too. Gratitude for a friend who tells me this. “I don’t believe God brought you this far and provided all you need to walk away from the help you might still need to fight for your life.” She’s right. I ask, “Do we have everything we need today?” Once step in front of the other. Be faithful. Do the next thing. Love harder. Celebrate the gifts. Give the rest to Him.

SWEET TEA AND JESUS.

This I know.

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She Will Pollute The Shadows. Gauntlet Story Feast. Our Stories Of Strength giveaway

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“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”― N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World

Laity1

I have written privately to my girls since they were in my womb in journals I will gift them someday. Dan too keeps a journal to them. We have amazing little rituals like writing notes to one another, especially if we are mad, sad or sorry. We have a treasure box where we keep them all. I know there are so many things we share that busy “soccer moms” might never get to with their kids. We snuggle a lot. We read and talk about what we read. We collage our visions and hopes and prayers for the seasons in our lives. We pray. Since writing “Gauntlet With a Gift” I have had this fresh perspective on the gifts that are wrapped in ugly packages like chronic illness and pain. I do believe our slow life, early bedtimes and lots of talking and listening to one another has shaped us. The compassion I see growing in both my girls for me in my suffering is forming their character.

Through all our hard we’ve tried to teach our girls these simple things. THE SHADOWS ARE REAL. Just because you know Jesus doesn’t make the sun shine all the time. THERE IS DANGER. Keep your eyes open. Laugh. You, be more dangerous. You, grow up bigger than the bad. You, shine brighter than the dark. YOU WILL POLLUTE THE SHADOWS, MY CHILDREN.

Delaney wrote the following as a paper for school. Because of the length and the necessary scientific references some parts are edited out. If you are interested in her full study you are welcome to contact me. I love she chose this topic to explore. I appreciate her honesty and conclusions about the juxtaposition of light and dark in a very difficult life for a child and adolescent to navigate. I grew from viewing our world through her eyes, and I hope you do as well.

Bringing Good Out Of Bad
By Delaney Jayne

In 2009, I was eight years old and found out that my little sister, Danica, had Chiari malformation. She was two when she had her first brain decompression. She was three years old and had to have a second brain surgery and rare spinal fusion. For a year and a half she was in a neck and brace and a wheelchair. Many long trips to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for check ups left me at my grandparent’s house or with friends every time my parents and Danica were away. I learned to be independent early on because even when my mom was pregnant with Danica she had to be hospitalized in Maryland for three months, and I came to live in Ohio with my grandpa and grandma. I began kindergarten at Lake Center Christian School when I was only four years old.

Research suggests that when one family member’s health is challenged or unpredictable the whole family is affected. And while all children rely on their parents to help them feel safe and secure, parents in families with health concerns may be too preoccupied or overwhelmed to provide this attention. Other important family research states that some lingering negative effects on well siblings growing up with an ill sibling or parent may appear in late adolescence and early adulthood. Specifically, the later negative effect it has on their social functioning, including their ability to be comfortable and trusting in social relationships becomes a critical issue as a child matures. The results of the study also suggests that parent’s ability to manage the needs of their well children is crucial to their children’s resilience. If parents focus the majority of their attentions on the ill child at the expense of the well child, a higher probability exists that the well sibling would be susceptible to behavioral and emotional problems in late adolescence.

After Danica’s second surgery my mom quit her job to take care of Danica, and she was getting sicker herself. This, and many medical bills, led us to lose our home and live in my grandparent’s finished basement. Even though I had my own room, and we had our own bathroom, and a small kitchenette, it was a place to stay and not our home. My grandparents had just built their home one year before we moved in. It was brand new, but just like every basement there were bugs, very little sunlight and mold. My room didn’t have a window at all. This is when my mom started to feel even worse. She had several rough surgeries for endometriosis that had been growing all over her insides, but I think the stress of everything she did for Danica and the living environment made her feel the worst she ever had. She went to a doctor in Maryland and found out she had Chiari and EDS too. Her neck was always in pain and some days she couldn’t lift her head or even get out of bed. My life changed drastically when Danica had her first brain surgery and hasn’t been the same since. Really, it began back when mom got pregnant with Danica in 2007.

An issue of The Journal of Child and Family Studies published in 2012 states that when children grow up with a parent who has a chronic medical condition they are at risk for adjustment difficulties. Illness or disability in the family can have many effects, negative and positive. Differences in behavior, academic outcomes and psychosocial outcomes may occur. Many benefits can come as well, like becoming more responsible, being a kind and loving person, and valuing life.

Children in families with disability or chronic illness usually face real life concerns at an earlier age than most. This was definitely true for me. I feel like I had to grow up quickly because I had more responsibility for my own self care, school work, and around the house than most kids my age, One of the biggest ways my life is different than my friends is how much we are at home. My mom is in bed a lot and never knows how she will feel, so we cannot plan ahead, and I rarely get to have anyone to my house. She is allergic to all kinds of smells, so she has trouble coming to events at school and cannot go to church. She can be feeling okay one day and suddenly be very sick.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study that highlighted the positive opportunities of growing up in a home with a chronically ill sibling and parent. It can provide opportunities for the family to bond closely and develop resilience. For our family this is definitely true. No one understands how hard the past eight years have been for us. We appreciate small things and good days others might take for granted. I also have an understanding of pain that helps me be empathetic to others hurting. I know what it is like to lose material things and be aware of what really matters. I appreciate my mom and how hard she fights to keep moving. This has taught me to never give up. Even though we don’t do a lot of normal things, we have more time to just be together instead of running from activity to activity. For me, my grandparents really helped take care of Danica and I while my parents were away for medical reasons, and often times people provided meals on days where my mom was too sick to cook. I know what it is like to be loved by many other people.

Going through all this has been really hard for everyone in the family, and as I get older and grow up I will always remember everything that has happened to me through the years. It may make me feel sad or depressed, but I know many benefits have come out of it all. I have become more mature and responsible with my chores, taking care of Danica as well as my mom and much more. Most kids my age get together with their friends all the time, but I never have anyone over to my house except my friend Lauren. She has been my best friend since kindergarten and has stuck by my side since then. She has encouraged me through everything my family has been through.

My life has been full of sadness, and it has been hard to get through it all. There are times I wish my family was different, but I also know God is using the bad and the good to make me into who I am supposed to be. I have learned that family is very important when you are in a situation like this. God has also been a big part of it all. He has healed my sister and encouraged my mom mom through all her surgeries and treatments and trying to make it through day by day.

It’s true negative things can develop from growing up with a family member who has a chronic medical condition but many benefits can come as well.

About Delaney Jayne:

Delaney Jayne is twelve years old and entering the eighth grade in the fall. At four years old I let her leave me in the hospital in Maryland and come here to Ohio with my parents to begin kindergarten. She has always been fiercely independent. She sees the world through color, pattern and texture. She collects vintage cameras, lockets and art books. She loves Jesus, Audrey Hepburn and Harry Potter. She is friendly with all but has one or two close friends. She guards her heart. She dreams of traveling to Europe and having her own life far away from here. I hold her loosely.

Laney Trees

I am donating the highly anticipated book Our Stories of Strength: Living with Elhers-Danlos Syndrome as this week’s giveaway. Mysti Reutlinger and Kendra Neilsen Myles have beautifully woven together an inspirational collection of stories, filled with devastation, heartbreak, triumph, and strength as written by those affected by different types of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Our community’s dear geneticist, Dr. Clair Francomano writes the foreword.

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WHEN DID YOU FIRST HEAR THE WORDS EHLERS-DANLOS SYNDROME? WHEN DID YOU FIRST SUSPECT YOU OR SOMEONE CLOSE TO YOU MIGHT HAVE THIS CONNECTIVE TISSUE DISORDER? Enter for a chance to win a copy of this amazing book by leaving a response here in the comments section of this blog post. Share this story somewhere on social media with the links below using the hashtag #GauntletStoryFeast. Each share will be an additional entry to win the book. The winner will be randomly chosen next Wednesday, June 17th after midnight and announced with next week’s Gauntlet Story. Don’t worry! If you don’t win, you may also click through the above link and purchase the print or Kindle version on Amazon. Please join the Our Stories of Strength online community here.

SHARE YOUR STORY. If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at mkayesnyder@gmail.com, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.

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Mother Risk and Rest

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Mother Risk and Rest

The smooth notes of Ray Lamontagne’s “The Best Thing” swell on the stereo. The girls are playing with the miniature doll house and have been for hours now. I hear Danica’s near pitch perfect whistle along with the bluesy tune. It’s one of those rare and extremely peaceful times when the five years between Delaney and Danica do not matter, and they are simply sisters lost in a pretend world together. I am exhausted from driving to Walgreens by myself to get Mother’s Day cards. It felt good to brave the car and the road and the store all by myself, but I felt a little panic too. I am coming to understand my courage comes in fits and starts. I am perhaps one of the most daring people you will meet when it comes to the ability to push myself and do almost anything independently. Most people were stunned I did most of my hospitalization in Maryland alone. I chose to be discharged alone and fly home alone last Saturday. These decisions are purposefully made in sacrifice to keep my girls here, safe, in their own beds and their own home with Dan and my family who will care for them the next best to how I would. I have consciously chosen to have less personal support so they would have more.

Delaney wanted to go to a sleepover tonight. I don’t know the family well at all. It’s my first weekend home, and it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. I said, “No.” Delaney cried and begged. I offered for her to go hang out with her friends, but I would come get her at bedtime. I told her I want her here, across the hall from me to sleep. She said the words I know are true, “Mom, I just wish you weren’t so OVER protective ALL THE TIME.” She’s right. I am. I wasn’t like this when she was young. Yes, I was vigilant about the right car seat and sunscreen and anti-tip wall anchors, but I was much more trusting of others and nurtured her free spirit. Since Danica’s neck went crooked everything in our lives is a calculated risk. Delaney has paid a high price for all this. I choke on knowing for sure I may have robbed her of something I simply cannot return now.

I read Ben Carson’s book Take the Risk again this week. I don’t think I’ve pulled it off the shelf since 2010 when we were making huge decisions regarding Danica’s surgery. I raced through his wisdom about the right questions to ask when making important life calculations, especially big medical ones. Toward the end of the book he specifically talks about the risk of parenting. He shares how developing young adults need to be allowed to have “acceptable” risk in their lives to redirect what can become dangerous risk taking behavior. I’ve taken this to heart as I watch my girl this weekend. Delaney is eleven going on twenty. If you know her you understand what I mean. I trust her with so much. Still, I am fiercely needing to keep her safe.

I am not like most other moms. I won’t get the card thanking me for shuttling my kids to practices or cheering them on at games or performances. I won’t be recognized in their graduation speech as the mom who was “always there for me.” My girls haven’t had big birthday parties, hand decorated cakes or lots of fun outings to explore the world. They haven’t had all the lessons and social opportunities most kids in their peer group do. They haven’t had a faithful church mom who is the example of weekly attendance and volunteering in programs and events. I haven’t been a “normal” mom. I’ve been sick a lot. I’ve been gone for long periods of time emotionally and physically. Through all this I’ve been brutally honest with my girls about how insanely beautiful this life is and how much hurt necessarily runs along the same path. I talk about fear when I’m afraid. I talk about hope because I believe with all my heart His perfect love casts out fear. I write my girls on days when I mess up and fail them. I try to piece together a genuine narrative for them not only about their childhood but about my story woven into the fabric of these foundation years. I don’t want them to compare their roots to that of their friends or Hollywood. I want honest expectations of sinners saved by Grace doing the best they can with what they have TODAY. In the morning I greet them, “Hello beautiful, How did you sleep?” At the end of the day I kiss them goodnight and play “Sleep Sound in Jesus.” I pray for them. I pray for them. I pray for them. It’s a risk, this love thing . . . this mother thing. It’s a huge risk, and it is so constant I feel myself holding my breath at least half of the time.

In a beautiful little book titled LIFT by Kelly Corrigan she writes,

“My default answer to everything is “no.” As soon as I hear the inflection of inquiry in your voice, the word no forms in my mind, sometimes accompanied by a reason, often not. Can I open the mail? No. Can I wear your necklace? No. When is dinner? No. What you probably wouldn’t believe is how much I want to say yes. Yes, you can take two dozen books home from the library. Yes, you can eat the whole roll of SweeTarts. Yes, you can camp out on the deck. But the books will get lost, and SweeTarts will eventually make your tongue bleed, and if you sleep on the deck, the neighborhood raccoons will nibble on you. I often wish I could come back to 
life as your uncle, so I could give you more. But when you’re the mom, your whole life is holding the rope against these wily secret agents who never, ever stop trying to get you to drop your end.

This tug-of-war often obscures what’s also happening between us. I am your mother, the first mile of your road. Me and all my obvious and hidden limitations. That means that in addition to possibly wrecking you, I have the chance to give to you what was given to me: a decent childhood, more good memories than bad, some values, a sense of a tribe, a run at happiness. You can’t imagine how seriously I take that—even as I fail you. Mothering you is the first thing of consequence that I have ever done.”

If I do nothing else, this mothering thing is what I will be measured by.

No wonder it’s all so scary so much of the time.

Every day I’m given my Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean I step outside my comfort zone and dare to love the best I can. Early on I thought it would never be enough. I know now He is making me exactly enough and the places I can’t fill He wants them to seek Him instead. It’s not dangerous at all when you believe what I do. Our days are written. Our sovereign God has a perfect plan and nothing I can do will mess that up for them.

No mother risk at all.

Just rest.

(This post was first published a year ago, May 10, 2014, on Team Danica.)

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Charming Charlies. What I Know Beauty is Not

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Charming2

I promised her. I told my Delaney Jayne several weeks ago I would take her shopping for a special mother, daughter date. She’s growing and changing in every way. Her blossoming like spring brings the need to find everything new. I’m sick. I’m getting sicker every day. I know I need more treatment and even see surgery on the horizon again. I’ve let my girl down too many times. Beautiful intentions have been crushed over and over again by the reality of this broken body. I woke yesterday after just a few hours of fitful sleep. I saw the look in her eyes and the carefully drafted list of needs and a few wants in her sweet little notebook. I did the chronic illness math in my head. How far could I drive? How long could I stand? How much clothing dye, perfume and people smells could I be exposed to? How much stimulation could my racing, raging mind handle? How many times could my shoulder pop out of joint from pushing hangers on the racks. How strong could I be when it came to the budget and reality of our family finances? Would I find the wisdom to share conversation with her discussing messages the world shouts to us about our appearance and identity? Could I gently show her the value of finding her own personal style? What kind of joy could come from all this hard? I divided the sum of all these things by the strength and Grace of Jesus, and I pushed.

Even when I was healthy I hated malls. I’ve never been one to shop at department stores with brand names or wander for hours looking for something to strike my fancy or fill up some space in my life. If I must buy I go to Target with a list. If I am looking for inspiration or a perfect gift I love Anthropologie or any shop small enough to be owned by someone I can say hello to when I walk in the door. I do love to putz at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s for a bargain but only for fun and mostly for my home. When I was well and worked I kept to a simple rule of mixing and matching classic, well made clothes. My sense of style allows for a new scarf or beautiful cardigan when the season changes, but what I wear is not something that consumes much of my thought at all. I still own many timeless pieces that I will keep and wear for years. I subscribe to the “cost per use” rule. This justifies a pair of black riding boots I paid several hundred dollars for and have owned eight winters. They’ve been cobbled once, polished every year, and I know they will last me at least eight more and look just as good if not better than the day I bought them. I wear sparse jewelry. Each piece holds some kind of meaning. Very little to nothing is “costume” for me. My weight has fluctuated from a size six when Danica was young to a size twelve at my heaviest through steroids and months in bed. I’ve given away the tailored pieces I know I will never fit in again. Pajama pants and a good hoodie are primarily my wardrobe now.

I admit I am completely sheltered and nearly oblivious to the consumption going on around me. I have been ignorant to the pressures my daughter faces daily when it comes to the kind of clothes and shoes she owns and wears. I don’t hear the constant yelling about how appearance is one of the most important statements you can make to let others know who you are, because I’ve had the volume down for a very long time. I didn’t grow up with any of these influences. I looked into the mirror every day with a cross stitch of I Peter 3:3-4 reflecting behind me. “Do not let your beauty be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

We climbed into the car in our garage, and I said, “Let’s pray.” I asked God to keep us safe, give us a good time together and guide our buying. I do this because my grandma always prayed before we pulled out of their driveway. I do this because my mom still says, “Let’s pray,” when she picks me up for anything. I know it makes Delaney uncomfortable, just like it did me for so many years, thinking this ritual might somehow keep us from a car accident or bring us to a sale we otherwise would miss. Now I do it because I acknowledge His blessing on our coming and going. I do it to acknowledge Him.

We’d gone to Target first for basics like camis and jeans and a simple dress for a choir competition this week. Walking into our local mall created an emotional response in me I could not have prepared for. My head snapped back as I smelled a rank contagion opening wounds with every swipe of a plastic card. The crowds wandered like zombies. I couldn’t see real faces. I felt sad and afraid. Was this my social anxiety or something more? I braved a store with clothing tailored to a young audience. The music, the square footage stuffed to overflowing with racks and racks of cheaply made formaldehyde smelling garments only good for a season at best, the cheap perfume, the too short shorts, the graphic messages on the shirts and the sheer number of girls pressing in to grab something made me dizzy. My legs were like jello. The burning in between my shoulder blades and the pain clawing up my back into the base of my skull forced me to find a stool in a dressing room. Delaney found some things she liked that could be basics for the season. I sat while she tried them on. I tried to do the real math in my head adding up the price of each item. I wished I had my mom’s old red plastic clicker she used to tally up our groceries. We always knew if we went over and had to put something back. My arithmetic was not so good.

We did that one awful store at the mall, and I told her I couldn’t do anymore. She could see it in my eyes. She didn’t argue. As we walked toward the exit we saw a Las Vegas type mecca of baubles called Charming Charlies. I limped and grimaced trying to think of a way to save this date. I offered to go into this store and let her pick out a few accessories to add color and style to her new clothes. She smiled. In we went. I felt like I was in the worst carnival fun house ever. All that fake metal and in no way precious stones and plastic and pleather made my stomach turn. The entire place was arranged by colors. I pushed her to the scarves in the two hues we had decided on. The ones she chose were pretty. I let her grab a necklace to go with her dress for the program. I waited in line and paid for these things with my mind swirling from what I’d just seen. We burst out the mall doors and I gulped fresh air. Inside the car I felt my vertebrae snapping into their places for the drive home. My eyes were burning and my face was bright red and on fire. Delaney seemed strangely happy if only because I had been able to do this with her. Whatever it looked like I was there, and this made it good. As we rode home I asked her where she thought all that stuff people bought in one day at that one mall would end up in the next year or two. She didn’t quite understand what I meant. I told her I think it will all end up in a yard sale or a donate bin or a basement tote. All that money and time and effort used up or stored up for nothing that really counts. We got smoothies. I began to instruct her about cutting the tags off so she didn’t make any holes in her new things. For good measure I reminded her to pick up any little plastic tag pieces off the floor. Oh God, my OCD is so bad. I can’t help myself even when I want to with all my heart.

Back at home I collapsed into bed for the rest of the day and night. Delaney came in later to hug me and thank me for taking her. I tried to apologize for my serious commentary on what was supposed to be fun. She said she understood. She asked if she could go through my scarves and pick a few I owned to borrow or even have. We laughed as I told her the stories behind some of them and how long I had owned them. I felt peace knowing God had allowed her heart to open to my experience. She went through my jewelry and asked if she could maybe have my old tarnished cameo ring. She said she would like to begin collecting lockets and could I gift the special gold one my dad gave me on my thirteenth birthday to her when she turns thirteen? My heart smiled.

Yes, daughter. Classic beauty. Accent your Jesus face. Don’t distract. Fine linen and purple will last. Dear girl, store up wisdom. Fill your mind and heart with kindness. Simplify. Less things that break or moth or burn. More hidden treasures of the heart. Charm is deceitful, my child. Most beauty is vain. Let Him make you gentle, quiet and full of God’s Spirit. Precious in His sight. Forever. And ever.

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Dear Mom. A Letter from Delaney

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“I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you’ll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won’t remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don’t even know about yourselves. We won’t come back here.

. . . I think about your futures a lot. I often want to whisper to you, when we’re tangled up together or I’m pinning your poetry to the bulletin board or repositioning the pillow under your head so you don’t get a crick. ‘Remember this. This is what love feels like. Don’t take less.’ But what I end up saying is ‘This was my dream. You were my dream.’ I’ve said it too many times though; now when I look at you all soft and gushy and say ‘Guess what?’ You say ‘This was your dream. I was your dream.’–Kelly Corrigan, Lift

Laney Trees

Every mother bears some kind of false guilt. There is no way we can live up to the expectations in our heads and hearts telling us all we are supposed to be for our children. For a sick mother, especially a chronically sick mother, the real or supposed guilt comes in constant waves. Not an hour passes that some kind of message from the world doesn’t remind us of how we are failing.

I have written privately to my girls since they were in my womb in journals I will gift them someday. Dan too keeps a journal to them. We have amazing little rituals like writing notes to one another, especially if we are mad, sad or sorry. We have a treasure box where we keep them all. I know there are so many things we share that busy “soccer moms” might never get to with their kids. We snuggle a lot. We read and talk about what we read. We collage our visions and hopes and prayers for the seasons in our lives. We pray. Since writing “Gauntlet With a Gift” I have had this fresh perspective on the gifts that are wrapped in ugly packages like chronic illness and pain. I do believe our slow life, early bedtimes and lots of talking and listening to one another has shaped us. The compassion I see growing in both my girls for me in my suffering is forming their character.

I’ve also written public letters to my girls on Team Danica. This is a little snippet of one I wrote to Laney during my brain surgery year:

I’m sorry. I ache to give you the normal ebb and flow of life. I am so sorry I can’t get out of bed so many mornings and you always have to find me lying down. I long to be the fun and energetic mom you want. I wish I wasn’t always so tired and on edge and just plain grumpy. I have felt like we are all on autopilot for so long just to get through. So many important things I want to do with you I have not. So many things I’ve said I wish I could take back. So many things I wished I had said, but I never did.

At the end of every day I crawl into bed with you. We read or watch old episodes of Andy Griffith or The Waltons. We pray and then snuggle and chat while “Sleep Sound in Jesus” plays. I see you cling to me, your mommy, no matter how many times we have tussled during the day. Tonight you looked right at me. I am so haggard and tired and broken. You asked, ‘Mom, Do you remember what you looked like before?’ It hurts me, but I understand. Danica still looks at me the way you used to, like I’m the most beautiful woman in the world. I knew this would fade and you would begin to see my flaws on the inside and the out. I want you to know this is beauty too. This taking one painful step after another to care for you is love.

And here is one I wrote her after missing another Christmas program because I was so sick:

I am so proud of you. You have worked so hard at everything you have tried. You have taken all the responsibility for your heavy school load, extra curricular program and your music. You are thriving, Delaney. Even when you come home, and I have already clocked out for the day because of pain, you remain cheerful and helpful and loving to me. You meet me where I am probably more than any other person in my life. You never make me feel guilty or manipulate this very difficult situation. You still love to be with me when I am grumpy or sad. When I look in your eyes I know I have to keep fighting so I can see what happens next.

You are everything I dreamed you would be. You are kind. You are generous. You are brave. Oh my, you are so brave. You are strong like I wish I could be. You are wise way beyond your years. You are funny. You make me laugh out loud. You are crazy creative. You are bright. I mean like the sun. You are smart too. You are tough as nails but have the most tender heart. It’s a perfect mix. You are grateful. You are a leader. You know who you are. You know who God made you to be. You are so much more. You are the most.

When I look into your piercing blue eyes and try to count the cinnamon sugar on your nose and cheeks and when I kiss you on your head and touch the gold in your hair I still catch my breath. When I see you first thing in the morning, you are a bubble floating into my day. When I tuck you in at night, you are a perfect punctuation mark to all the good and bad and in between. When I doubt why God could have put me here. When I ask Him why He is keeping me here. He answers with you.

I love you Laney. There has never been a minute in your life I wasn’t carrying the awareness of the extreme treasure you are. I worry sometimes that you won’t know how I feel. I feel afraid I can’t love you well enough because I am such a different kind of mom than most everyone else. That’s why I’m writing this now. Maybe someday I’ll be healthy again and will attend your daughter’s Christmas programs. Maybe I will be sicker or even gone, and you will have to navigate even more life without me physically present. However it goes, I need you to understand my heart for you.

It’s LOVE. Simple. True. Forever.

Last night Delaney brought me a letter. It was not a grandiose gesture. She had been asked to write a thank you letter to someone as a class assignment. She chose me. She spoke to me in my favorite love language, words. Every single reason I’ve felt sad or guilty about being a very sick mom for oh so long melted away as I read her genuine affection for me as her mama just the way I am. I never expected this from my twelve year old. Perhaps when she headed off to college or maybe on her wedding day or after she had her first child but not now. I certainly never expected her to be able to separate the wheat and the chaff from our complicated life and hold on to the good stuff like she so clearly is doing. I was blown away.

Dear Mom

One of the beautiful lines I’ve plucked from Joe Rigney’s book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts speaks of guilt.

“False guilt kills true joy and ruins us for fruitful ministry . . . To feel guilty for something God does not regard as sin is itself a sin.”

Moms, read this again.

“False guilt kills true joy and ruins us for fruitful ministry . . . To feel guilty for something God does not regard as sin is itself a sin.”

I am the mother God chose for Delaney and Danica. As my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee would say, “I am PreApproved!”

Do you ever feel like God must have gotten it all wrong when He chose you as the mother of your children? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel guilt? I’m here to tell you it’s just not so. You are perfectly matched with the hearts and lives of the children He wants you to love. Lean in to the fruitful ministry of motherhood. It may not look anything like your dreams for motherhood or like your best friend’s journey as a mom, but you are finding your way and your children are okay. Your children will be okay. And one day they will “Rise up and call you blessed.”–Proverbs 31:28

Photo by Grace Designs Photography

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